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7 ways to become a better proposal manager

The less obvious aspects of proposal management can have the most impact on your success

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Proposal Management

Take a step back from proposal mechanics. Becoming a better proposal manager has more to do with understanding the goals and what’s required for people to improve their performance than it does with making the trains run on time. A conductor doesn’t just keep the musicians in synch. A conductor helps them be more than the sum of their individual parts. Here’s how to apply that to proposal management: 

  1. Decide on what kind of proposal manager you want to be. You may not realize it, but there are many different kinds of proposal manager. Or maybe it’s more like competing priorities for different corporate goals. Is your priority to write and produce proposals by yourself, produce the work of others, ensure that proposals are error free, do proposals as cheaply as possible, do proposals with as little effort as possible, submit as many proposal as possible, win the proposals you submit, build the infrastructure needed to do a lot of proposals, or something else? Rank your priorities in order. Then drop all but the top few because you’ll never get to them. You can’t be everything to everybody. Sometimes focusing brings clarity. So focus all of your effort onto the ones you kept. What does that look like? What kind of people, process, and tools are required? 
  2. Define your goals and the goal of each action item. A goal driven proposal process is better than a step driven proposal process. Goals can be flexible regarding how they are accomplished. Goals imply how to define success. Without goals, a proposal process tends to become a brain-dead attempt at automation that is doomed to failure. If you can’t articulate the goals, then you don’t have any and aren’t trying to achieve them. If you can articulate the goals, you can improve performance.
  3. Improve how you communicate expectations. Proposal management is mostly expectation management. And you can always improve expectation management. Communicating expectations is a combination of diplomacy and education. It helps to have training materials diplomatically named anything other than “training” like checklists, handouts, guides, or cheat sheets. Any expectations left unsaid will come back to haunt you. Remember that expectations flow in both directions and can be very different between different stakeholders.
  4. The earlier you get involved, the better. But the way you get involved matters. You can help people understand what information you need to prepare a winning proposal. Look at every step that happens before the start of the proposal, going all the way back to marketing and strategic planning. What things could be done to increase win probability when it gets to the proposal stage? That’s what you need to define and help people accomplish.
  5. Help other people to help you. A more precise way to say this is help other people do their jobs better so they can bring you what you need to do your job better. But that’s not nearly as catchy. If you want people to give you what they need, you have to first help them understand what it is that you need, and then help them understand how to fulfill it. They’ll be even happier if you just do it for them, but you can’t do everything. They’ll have to be satisfied with training, facilitation, guidance, and expectation management. However, the more that you do to help them, the more likely you are to get what you need for the proposal. And coincidentally, the more they will think you’re a great proposal manager!
  6. The best communication requires no effort. Great communication is not the same as more communication. Other than notifications, the best communication should not require any special action. Every interaction with the proposal should bring awareness of what stakeholders need to know. It should be in front of them, ever present, just what they need in that moment, without having to ask. Now go build that. One small piece at a time will do. Every interaction should bring clarity and preparation for what comes next. Try making it feasible to work on a proposal without ever talking to people and without anyone having to ever ask a question or go look something up because it’s already there. They’ll ask anyway, and you’re not really trying to eliminate questions, but the more you reduce the need, the smoother the experience will be for your stakeholders.
  7. Streamline the flow of information. Every activity during proposal development requires taking information, assessing it, and improving what’s there. Every activity can be facilitated. The delivery of information can be improved (faster, lower level of effort, better quality), assessment tools (as simple as a checklist) can be created, guidance for how to improve it or desired outcomes (quality criteria possibly presented as a checklist) can help. Streamlining and improving the flow of information during a proposal not only reduces the level of effort, it improves the quality of what gets produced. In other words, it improves your win rate. In addition, it puts the proposal manager in the role of helping people instead of being the deadline cop or process police.
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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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